WASHINGTON – It wasn’t pretty, but that’s not the point.
When Democrats and Republicans squared off Wednesday for the annual Congressional Baseball Game, they didn’t do it to show off their athletic prowess. They did it to raise money for charity, to represent schools and teams back home and to engage in some playful ribbing.
But mostly they did it because the century-old game gives partisan lawmakers a chance to relax and relate to each other in a friendlier atmosphere, if only for a night.
“It’s a really good way for you to meet some of your colleagues outside of the committee room, both Democrats and Republicans,” Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, said before the game. “So it’s a very good way to build relationships, to really, you know, get to know somebody on a human level, not just as a bunch of politicians.”
That was echoed by Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Phoenix, who said Wednesday was his fourth Congressional Baseball Game.
“It’s a camaraderie, camaraderie not just with my Democratic teammates, who are some of the best members of Congress, really good people,” Stanton said. “And get a chance to kind of have a little fun with the Republicans too. Good-natured fun, and hopefully we’ll have a good, safe, fun, close game tonight.”
The game started in 1909 and has been played off and on since, with interruptions for depressions, war years and, more recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has long raised money for charity, with proceeds from this year’s game going to benefit the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, the Washington Literacy Center and the philanthropic arm of the Washington Nationals, which has hosted the game in recent years at Nationals Park.
Receipts from this year’s game were not immediately available, but more than 20,000 fans showed up to cheer on their teams.
While the game is about bipartisanship, the cheering sections are anything but, with the stands divided between Democratic and Republican sections.
On the field it was competitive, but not combative. Both dugouts were joking and the play on the field had a lighthearted vibe, with players talking and congratulating one another.
Besides Stanton and Gallego, Arizona was represented on the field by Rep. Juan Ciscomani, R-Tucson, a freshman playing in his first game.
While Republicans all wore a red team uniform, Democratic players donned jerseys and hats representing professional teams or schools and colleges from back home.
Stanton wore a jersey from Chandler High School in his district. He said he chooses a different school from the district to represent each year.
“I want to represent the community that I’m lucky enough to represent here in Congress,” he said.
Gallego, meanwhile, wore a jersey from Tucson High Magnet School – well outside his Phoenix district. Just because it’s a bipartisan event doesn’t mean that there is no politics on the field. Gallego, who is running for Senate, said he chose to wear the THMS Badgers jersey as a way to represent the whole state.
“Well, you know, as someone who’s running statewide and trying to represent the whole state, I think it’s important that every part of the state gets a little piece of representation here,” he said.
It may have paid off. When asked about the Badgers jersey making an appearance at the congressional game, Tucson High Magnet School Principal Elizabeth Rivera said in an email Wednesday that the school was “overjoyed to be represented by Ruben Gallego in the congressional baseball game tonight with our Badger jersey.”
And just because it’s a friendly game doesn’t mean it’s not competitive – these are members of Congress after all. Stanton, who drove in two runs for the Democrats, was pumped up throughout the game, cheering on teammates and showing frustration when a play went bad. Gallego slammed his bat on the ground after striking out at his one turn at the plate.
In the end, that passion was not enough to overcome the Republicans, who jumped to an early lead and cruised to a 16-6 victory. It was the third straight win for the Republicans, who shut out the Democrats 10-0 last year.
But the real outcome for the players is not the final score.
“It’s a sign of bipartisanship, that bipartisanship can still exist here in Washington, despite some of the difficult issues that we’re working on,” Stanton said. “It’s a fun tradition. I really enjoy playing in it.”